About Obsessions and Compulsions

July 6, 2005 at 11:03 am  •  Posted in Obsessions And Compulsions by  •  0 Comments

Introduction Suppose I Suspect I Have OCD?
What Is OCD? How Is It Treated?
How Pervasive is OCD? Can a Child Have OCD?
Do I Have OCD, or Just High Standards? How Is a Child’s OCD Treated?



How many times have you walked out of the house only to immediately return, convinced that you left the iron on, or forgot to lock all the doors?

It’s only normal to occasionally forget something or to worry that you neglected to do something. If, however, these worries begin to overwhelm you, or cause you to repeatedly perform certain “rituals” to help keep your anxieties at bay, you may be suffering from Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD).

What Is OCD?

It is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors to help rid yourself of these thoughts (compulsions). The behaviors may include constant hand washing to eradicate “germs,” counting certain objects over and over to make sure you have not lost any, keeping everyday items in precise order. Unfortunately, performing these rituals brings about only temporary relief from the crippling fear and anxiety. Likewise, not performing these rituals usually spells an increase in anxiety.

With OCD, it’s as if your brain gets stuck on a specific image, thought, or urge, and can’t move on, like a needle on a broken LP record. Among the more common obsessions: excessive worries about dirt and germs, a fear of having harmed someone else (perhaps while pulling the car out of the driveway) even though it’s unrealistic, or a fear of yielding to violent urges.

People with OCD may recognize that their repetitive thoughts and behaviors are utterly senseless, but cannot free themselves from them. Often, they feel helpless and embarrassed and question their sanity. Others may not realize something is wrong. Actor Jack Nicholson was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as a New York writer and OCD sufferer in the 1997 film “As Good as it gets.”

How Pervasive Is OCD and Who Is Likely to Be Diagnosed With It?

Experts once thought that OCD was rare, but it’s now known to be more common than other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. More than three million Americans from all walks of life have OCD.

If your parents or other relatives had OCD, the odds of you suffering are slightly higher. However, scientists have not identified any genes responsible for it. They are also divided on its origins, with some theorizing that its cause is biological, and others saying it springs from a learned behavior. Yet other experts believe it’s a combination of both environmental and genetic factors.

Inadequate levels of serotonin, a chemical messenger in your brain, may also be to blame. OCD sufferers who take medicines that enhance the action of serotonin often improve greatly.

Do I Have OCD, or Just High Standards?

Some people who strive for perfection in all they do – maintaining an impossibly clean home, always finishing a work projects well ahead of schedule – may be considered compulsive. This is not the same as having OCD. Behaviors associated with OCD begin to interfere with everyday functioning, taking up time, and creating anxiety.

Suppose I  Suspect I have OCD?  Now What?

This is where a social worker can help you.. Often people plagued by recurrent thoughts and behaviors are ashamed to admit them. They fear being judged or labeled crazy if they confide, for example, that they are stuck on the same senseless thought or feel as though they must constantly scrub “germs” off a doorknob.

In a caring, non-judgmental environment, a social worker can assist you with determining whether it is indeed OCD and help you to formulate a treatment plan, possibly even referring you to a mental health professional who specializes in the disorder. While there is no specific laboratory test to confirm the disorder, a social worker can ask a series of key diagnostic questions about your obsessions.

How Is It Treated?

A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medications, often used together, are effective in treating OCD. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves retraining your thought patterns and routines so that your compulsions are no longer necessary.

Two types of antidepressants are used to treat OCD. These are: Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which enhance the brain’s ability to use serotonin, a brain chemical that sends and receives messages and plays a crucial role in mood.

Can a Child Have OCD?

Yes. In fact, OCD usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood and is seen in as many as 1 in 200 children and adolescents.

A young child with OCD, for example, may be terrified someone will enter his home at night through an unlocked door or window. While his parents sleep, the child may tiptoe around the house, checking all the doors and windows, a way of alleviating the anxiety. Fearing that he may have mistakenly unlocked a door or window in the process, he then begins checking all over again.

An older child or teenager with OCD may often worry that they will become sick with AIDS, germs, or contaminated food. To cope with these unsettling feelings, the child may develop “rituals” or behaviors or activities that they repeat, such as frequent hand washing, checking something again and again or keeping items or possessions in absolute order.

The rituals can also consist of mental acts like counting aloud, repeating words silently or avoiding certain things, like cracks on a sidewalk, or climbing over every other step in a staircase.

If your child’s compulsions or obsessions interfere with her normal routine, for example, keep her from focusing in school, alienating her from her peers or hindering her from joining in on social activities, a consultation with a mental health professional is definitely in order .

Again, seeking the services of a social worker possibly even within the child’s school system, is an excellent place to begin.. She will help in the diagnosis and possibly in the creation of an effective treatment plan.

Cognitive behavior therapy is considered to be especially helpful in for children and adolescents with OCD

How Is  a Child’s OCD  Treated?

Cognitive behavior therapy with a trained mental health professional is especially helpful, more so than antidepressant medication, which is also prescribed for children and adolescents.

Remember only a licensed physician can prescribe medication for your child’s OCD.

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